Under pressure, VA management begins IT reorg

CIO to oversee IT operations, maintenance budget

The Veterans Affairs Department's CIO officially began to take over control of IT operations and maintenance late last month, despite resistance from agency top management.

Pressure from lawmakers and the resignation of agency CIO Robert McFarland finally convinced VA secretary James Nicholson to meet the congressional mandate and reorganize how the department manages IT.

Under the new, federated approach, the CIO will have more authority over how VA and its bureaus manage IT funds. Systems development, however, will remain in the benefits, health care and burial administrations.

VA officials over the next several weeks will detail IT staff involved in operations and maintenance to McFarland's office for reassignment. A final decision on staff placement will come in October, said McFarland, who will leave his position April 30.

The change will not affect the employees' day-to-day work, functions and supervisory reporting structure, he added.' Ultimately, the reorganization will affect 5,000 people.'

Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee and author of the legislation reorganizing the department's IT structure, had expressed displeasure at a recent hearing with VA's progress.

But with the plan now in place, Buyer praised Nicholson and deputy secretary Gordon Mansfield for recognizing that VA must modernize IT and streamline activities.

'This is the first step in an incremental approach to centralizing IT at the department. We look for progress and expect to hold additional hearings on this topic,' Buyer said.

McFarland said the reorganization had 'produced a contentious atmosphere at the executive level.' He resigned because 'my continued presence in it would be detrimental to the department's implementation' of the reorganization.

Town hall meetings

McFarland plans to schedule town hall meetings across the VA network to explain the reorganization plan and listen to employees' views on improving IT operations and maintenance. VA also has activated a Web site to provide communications for employees and partners about the IT realignment.

Congress passed legislation last year to put IT budget authority under the department CIO. The reorganization was in response to years of cost overruns, mismanagement and lack of accountability.

For example, VA spent $342 million on the Core Financial and Logistics System before pulling the plug on it in 2004.

In an assessment of the department's IT management environment, Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., recommended that VA centralize all management of IT budgeting, which could save the department $1.7 billion over five years, said Michael Pedersen in testimony about his findings last year to Buyer's committee. The federated model will take longer.

'The centralized model has the greater potential to realize efficiencies,' he said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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